Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dumbledore is what?

I thought I didn't have anything further to clarify about how I view Deathly Hallows, but that was before the two big revelations from Rowling in her Open Book tour in the middle of October. Like many others, I had entered to try to win two tickets to Carnegie Hall. And I knew which of my daughters would be going with me. It would have been Sarah, as October 19 was her birthday. Laura wasn't happy about that announcement, but thankfully, I was spared that bit of sibling rivalry when I did not win the tickets. Not to mention that I saved a lot of money in air fare from Seattle to New York and in hotel costs which looked outrageous when I chanced to look just in case I won.

On October 17, Rowling talked about the Christian themes and imagery and said that she had always intended that they were part of the story, particularly the 7th book. It was quite a vindication for all of us who have been saying that we saw those things early on. So many things fall into place with that knowledge. She was confirming rather than revealing something that was not already in the books. It was there all along and the only reason some didn't see it was that they refused to do so, preferring some other purpose for the characters choices and for the outcome of the story. There are some excellent discussions about this at Hogwarts Professor (John Granger) and at Sword of Gryffindor (Travis Prinzi) so Unless I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands, I won't repost everything here. Well, never say never--I may do it later, but not for a while anyway.

Then we had the question and answer period at Carnegie Hall and of course, the reporters jumped on the only question/answer that was sure to make headlines--in some cities it was on the front page no less. Surely there must be more important things going on in the world than Rowling saying she always thought of Dumbledore (a fictional character in a fantasy series) as gay.

I found myself going from being elated about the religious confirmation to be sorely disappointed about the gay revelation. It only took me about a day to realize that my disappointment wasn't so much that Dumbledore was gay but that there was no clue of it in any of the seven books. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay but by not making that clear (especially to people who have read the books over and over and by that time, I'd even read Deathly Hallows three times), it just didn't matter.

I know that some people have said that they thought certain characters were gay--Lupin being the prime example. And that turned out not to be the case when we learned that he and Tonks were in love and then married and had a child. We see Lupin at his happiest when he comes to announce that he and Tonks have a son, Teddy.

I think many of us thought of Dumbledore as just being too consumed with saving the world to even think about any sex life he had, even one in his youth. He sort of fit that image that I, and many students had, that their teachers have no life outside of school. When I taught school, my 2nd grade students were fascinated that I was getting married, and then they met my husband later. The fascination was, I think, because until then they really thought that I lived at the school. Children just have no reason to think of teachers as having a sex life--and I apparently read the books with that mind-set.

It had no bearing on my reading of Dumbledore's friendship with Grindelwald. That is the way Rowling chose to speak of their relationship--a friendship of two highly talented youth who were busy with their political amibitions to save the wizarding world. There didn't have to be more of an explanation of why Dumbledore was so enthralled with his new friend. He'd finally found someone who was his equal and it was a way for him to escape the responsiblities of his family that must have felt like a huge unfair burden to someone so bright and gifted.

My other disappointment was that Rowling shared this bit of back story at all. As a Christian, I've spent the last eight years defending the books and pointing out to parents that they are stories written with Christian themes--they have nothing to fear from letting their children read the Harry Potter books. But many of those Christians who are Harry-haters are also very intolerant of gays. And one of my first thoughts was that by telling us that Dumbledore was gay, Rowling had undone everything that would reassure those fearful doubting parents who might rethink their decision and let their children experience a wonderful story. *sigh*

Well, it is what it is. Rowling thinks of Dumbledore as gay, so as the author, she must be right. However, I think that she missed her chance to have all the readers see him the same way by not putting that particular detail in the books themselves. If it was important to understanding the story, then it should have been there in the first place. (Personally, I'm glad it wasn't as I don't think it would have been appropriate in a book read by so many young children.)

I came to see after a few days and reading a lot of other people's thoughts, that my biggest disappointment was not that Dumbledore was gay, but that Rowling hadn't included it in the story and saying it after the books were done just seemed pointless and rendered the information useless to the understanding of the story. I've also realized that for all the times I said I wanted all that back story, all the details about all the characters, I don't. If it's not there already, it does not change the way I read it; if it's not there already, it just doesn't matter.

John Granger included links to articles written by Prof. John Mark Reynolds:

Dumbledore Is Not Gay: Taking Stories More Seriously Than the Author

Dumbledore Is Not Hetero: Taking Stories More Seriously Than the Author II

Author's Intent: Taking the Story More Seriously Than the Author Part III

They are well worth reading. I feel that I can now move past this particular bit of information that will not change how I read the Harry Potter stories--and I'm glad that I have come to that place.